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Naval Warfare

HMS Unicorn (I72)

Maintenance Aircraft Carrier [ 1943 ]

HMS Unicorn 71 became a veteran of World War 2 and served with distinction during the Korean War.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 11/02/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The aircraft carrier came of age in World War 2 (1939-1945) and supplanted the battleship as the primary capital ship of the world's navies. The ship type was used to excellent effect by the Allies in the re-taking of the Pacific from the Empire of Japan and remained a prominent fixture of naval warfare in the subsequent Korean War (1950-1953) and Vietnam War (1955-1975). The British Royal Navy of World War 2 fielded an impressive collection of aircraft-carrying warships and one of the more specialized vessels was the HMS Unicorn (I72).

HMS Unicorn was developed around the concept of a light carrier and used as a maintenance carrier in support of fleet ships. Light carriers were constructed to smaller dimensions than their larger sisters and carried half or less the aircraft. They did feature exceptional speed for their size, could be constructed at a fraction of the cost and were deployable on long voyages in deep water while also serving as fleet defenders and convoy escorts.

As built, HMS Unicorn displaced 16,770 tons under standard load and up to 20,600 tons under full load. Her length was 640 feet with a beam of over 90 feet and a draught reaching 23 feet. Power was from 4 x Admiralty water-tube boilers feeding 2 x Parsons geared steam turbines driving 40,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts under stern. Her crew complement numbered 1,200 under wartime conditions and armor ranged from 2" along the flight deck to 1.5" at the bulkheads. The vessel could carry about 33 aircraft of various makes and models. The Type 281B fit made up her early warning radar system and a pair of Type 285 systems were fitted as gunnery radars.©MilitaryFactory.com
Fitted armament, intended mainly for self-defense or cover of other ships from air attack, included 4x2 QF 4" Mk XVI Dual-Purpose (DP) guns, 4x4 2-pounder Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns, 2x2 20mm Oerlikon AA guns and 8x1 20mm Oerlikon AA guns.

HMS Unicorn was ordered on April 14th, 1939 as part of the Royal Navy's 1938 Naval Expansion Programme with the intent that she serve primarily as a depot / maintenance vessel. However, while still under construction, she was reworked to launch and retrieve aircraft to broaden her strategic value considerably all the while retaining her fleet maintenance/support-minded capabilities. She was launched on November 20th, 1941 as Britain was fully committed to World War 2. Completed in March of 1943, Unicorn began her career in Mediterranean waters and participated in the Allied amphibious landings at Salerno, Italy in September. From there she undertook actions in the Atlantic Ocean before relocating to Indian waters as part of the Eastern Fleet.

The warship served alongside fleet carriers and became a part of the British Pacific Fleet after November 1944. In May of 1945 she served in the Okinawa invasion and conducted supply runs from the Philippines and Admiralty Islands. The war ended in August of 1945 with the Japanese surrender. This led Unicorn to be decommissioned for the first time in January of 1946 at which point she was placed in reserve in British waters.

To support operations by the Far East Fleet, HMS Unicorn was recommissioned in 1949 and was stationed in Singapore during June of 1950 when war between the Koreas was declared. From then on, the warship was part of the critical operations to unseat the invaders by conducting supply runs (manpower, spare parts, aircraft) for Commonwealth forces. The British contingent included five light carriers and no fewer than thirteen naval air squadrons for its part in the bloody affair. Her guns were also used in anger at one point when she shelled North Korean elements along the coastline. At the end of the war she returned to British home waters and was set in reserve once again, decommissioned for a second time on November 17th, 1953. Her stripped hulk was scrapped in 1959 bringing about her formal end.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

United Kingdom national flag graphic
United Kingdom


HMS Unicorn

HMS Unicorn (I72)

National flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Flag Ship / Capital Ship
Serving in the fleet Flag Ship role or Capital Ship in older warship designs / terminology.

640.0 ft
195.07 m
90.2 ft
27.49 m
23.0 ft
7.01 m

Installed Power: 4 x Admiralty water-tube boiler units feeding 2 x Parsons geared steam turbines developing 40,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts.
Surface Speed
24.0 kts
(27.6 mph)
7,039 nm
(8,100 mi | 13,036 km)

kts = knots | mph = miles-per-hour | nm = nautical miles | mi = miles | km = kilometers

1 kts = 1.15 mph | 1 nm = 1.15 mi | 1 nm = 1.85 km
4 x 2 QF 4" Mk XVI Dual-Purpose (DP) guns
4 x 4 2-pounder Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns
2 x 2 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
8 x 1 20mm Oerlikon AA guns

Supported Types

Graphical image of a modern warship turreted deck gun armament
Graphical image of an aircraft automatic cannon

(Not all weapon types may be represented in the showcase above)
Up to 33 aircraft of various makes and models.

Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War period
Military lapel ribbon for early warship designs
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2

Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective naval campaigns / operations / periods.

Images Gallery

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Image of the HMS Unicorn (I72)
Image from the archives of the United States Navy.

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